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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sugiura: End death penalty in name of democracy

Kyodo

Abolishing the death penalty would represent a step toward becoming a "mature democratic nation," former Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura said recently at a public gathering in Tokyo.

"It is a big yardstick" for determining whether a nation is fully democratized, the certified lawyer said. The meeting was attended by a delegation of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, which reported the findings from its four-day visit in June to South Korea, where executions have been suspended for nearly 15 years.

Sugiura, who was justice minister from 2005 to 2006 under a Liberal Democratic Party government, joined the tour with another former justice minister, Hideo Hiraoka of the Democratic Party of Japan. Neither ordered executions during their stints in the ministry.

Noting that South Korea has not executed a death-row inmate since December 1997, Sugiura suggested the suspension remains in place because Seoul concluded an extradition treaty with the European Union, whose member countries have abolished capital punishment, and also because Ban Ki Moon, a South Korean, is secretary general of the United Nations, which has adopted a treaty calling for an end to the death penalty.

Capital punishment is still on the statute books in South Korea, where 58 inmates are on death row, but Amnesty International in 2007 designated it a country where the death penalty has been abolished in practice.

"I believe South Korea will actually terminate the death penalty in the future, and Japan will fall behind" at a time when 141 countries in the world have already abolished it by law or in practice, Sugiura said.

While the JFBA has called for the government to immediately launch a public debate on abolishing the death penalty by disclosing more information surrounding the capital punishment system and for executions to be suspended while the discussions are ongoing, five inmates have been executed since the DPJ took power in 2009.



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